In the Valle del Sant’Agata [the Saint Agata Valley], amid the woods of the Aspromonte, one arrives at the Graecanic area’s first village: Cardeto.
The valley is called by the same name as the river whose right bank skirts it. Both the river and the vale bear the name of an important Sicilian saint who was believed to protect the inhabitants of the district and to whom a local church – no longer standing – was dedicated.
From the slopes of the Aspromonte, the Sant’Agata River follows its more or less easy course through the land surrounding the towns and villages of the province of Reggio Calabria to flow through Cardeto before joining the sea near the Aeroporto dello Stretto [Airport of the Straits] named after Tito Minniti [a Calabrian war hero].
Close to the villages of Cardeto, Cataforio and San Salvatore, the river descends gently to gradually narrow, amid valleys and terraced fields – once dedicated to the production of bergamot, citrus fruits, grapes and chestnuts – and through the district’s typical nasìde, small areas of arable land surrounded by armacìe, as dry-stone walls are called here. The bergamot groves too are protected by embankments in masonry, as are the vegetable gardens created here, following irrigation works carried out in the nineteenth century and patiently resumed after the devastating floods of 1953.
Cardeto, which probably derives from the Italian word for thistle, cardo [Latin, Carditum], means “the place of thistles”. It is easy to associate this place name with the characteristic abundance of thistles that grow in the area around the village.
TOWNLANDS AND LOCALITIES
Ambele, Calvario, Cartalimi, Castanea, Chimputo, Colachecco, Cataforio, Garcea, Giurricando, Iriti, Lamberta, Loddini, Mallamaci, Mannarella, Pantano, Piraino, San Salvatore, Sant’Elia, Scala, Scranò.
Cardeto seems to have been founded in the late Byzantine period. At that time Reggio Calabria was of major importance to the whole of Calabria, having been elevated, under Basil I, to the status of Metropolis of the Byzantine possessions in southern Italy, therefore the hub of the Eastern Church. Because of this, considerable numbers of monks arrived and settled in the hinterland where they founded monasteries, around which towns and villages grew up.
Cardeto was undoubtedly the Motta Sant’Agata grange until 1783, so it seems plausible that it was the inhabitants of Sant’Agata themselves who founded the hamlet some time prior to the eleventh century, during the first Arab incursions. To defend the village they built the Torre Saracena [Saracen Watchtower], the remains of which are still to be seen in the Serra vicinity.
The watchtower seems to have been used by the inhabitants of Sant’Agata as a lookout post, given its strategic position overlooking the Straits. Today it has been converted into a breath-taking belvedere. There are traces of the place’s Byzantine past in the S. Nicola di Foculica monastery, in the Badia [Abbey] vicinity as well as in the nuns’ convent of S. Maria di Mallemaci, which stands in the locality of the same name, about three kilometres from the hamlet. In 1563, Cardeto was burnt to the ground by the Spanish Inquisitor, Pietro Pansa, convinced as he was that it harboured heretics. Barrio , says that the grange is “grecorum” [lit. of the Greeks] and, in actual fact, in 1595, the then archbishop of Reggio Calabria, Annibale D’Afflitto, visited it in the company of the local parish priest, the “Greek” Giuseppe Bova. As late as the eighteenth century the prevalent language used here was Greek while, in 1820, K. Witte recalls Cardeto as being “the first village in the Province where both Greek and Italian are spoken”. According to the linguist Morosi, the phonetic quality of the Greek spoken in this community was superior to that of the idiom used in Bovesia, so much so, that in 1873, he called it the “fifth column” alongside Bova, Condofuri, Roccaforte and Roghudi. Today, although the Greek language is no longer spoken here, the musical tradition is decidedly full of Greek connotations. The sound of the tarantellas envelops Cardeto on more than one occasion during the year, especially during the feast of the patron saint, Sebastian. The church dedicated to him lies on the edge of the village, maybe because it was built near the site of the old lazaretto. According to the Byzantine liturgical tradition, this saint was considered the patron saint of plague victims. Of Byzantine origin too is the cult of the medical saints Cosma and Damiano. In Cardeto there is a prestigious painting on canvas of these saints which is the work of an artist from Puglia, created in 1771, portraying the twin doctors treating the sick in the presence of the Madonna degli Afflitti [lit. Madonna of the Afflicted].
One of the most beautiful descriptions of Cardeto is that written by Cardinal Luigi Tripepi.
EXPLORING THE HISTORI CENTRE
As a testimony to the intensity of religious feeling in this area, we find the Santuario di Santa Maria Assunta di Mallemace, [The Sanctuary of the Assumption] situated in Mallemace, where a convent of nuns dedicated to Sant’Andrea [Saint Andrew] once stood. Proof that the eastern-rite liturgy was practiced in Cardeto until 1700 and that the Greek language was spoken here, is provided by scholars Rodotà and Pacichelli. Furthermore, Witte, in 1821 and Libetta, in 1845, confirm the fact that the local population used the Greek linguistic code, mingled with terms from the Italian-Calabrian dialect.
Although Greek is now extinct here, the Greek language and liturgy were very much alive up until the nineteenth century.
Something that should not be missed is the series of processions dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta di Mallemace: “a calata” [the descent], on the 13th of August, from the Sanctuary to Cardeto; “u giru”[the circuit], on the 15th , through the streets of the town; “a nchianata” [the ascent] the first Sunday in October, when the Assunta is brought back to her sanctuary.
Today the town’s economy is based mostly on agriculture and animal husbandry. Here, the locally-produced, prime-quality cheeses and cured meats are particularly appreciated throughout the entire Reggio area.
During the last week of October, Cardeto hosts an important chestnut-harvest fair and people flock here in their hundreds from both the city and the province of Reggio. This is one of the occasions when the town gives voice to its musical vocation, playing traditional tarantellas and age-old songs, as visitors and locals taste roast and boiled chestnuts
Of the stands set up all around the village, some offer typical local produce and miscellaneous objects for sale, while others exhibit some of the town’s most precious traditional costumes.